x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Forget the agents, it's in the game for City's Richards

Family, friends, charity work and getting back in the England frame also all figure high on the muscular Manchester City defender’s list of priorities.

Micah Richards may only be 22 but his muscular frame has made him an imposing defender for Manchester City. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
Micah Richards may only be 22 but his muscular frame has made him an imposing defender for Manchester City. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

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In an era when high-profile players haggle over new contracts, appearance bonuses and image rights, it is refreshing to hear a professional footballer say: "All I really want is to play football."

With Kia Joorabchian, the controversial agent, playing a central role in Carlos Tevez, his highest-profile client, handing in and then withdrawing a transfer request at Manchester City in December, the Premier League club will be thankful that they will not have to deal with the Iranian, or indeed any other outside representative, when Micah Richards's five-and-a-half year deal expires in 2013.

"I don't really have an agent," Richards said. "People think my dad is my agent but he isn't. Dad helped me with my last deal but having an agent is not something I feel I need to do. There is nothing I really need. All I really want is to play football."

While Ian Wright, the former Arsenal and England striker, is seemingly hindering the progress of Shaun Wright-Phillips by reportedly meddling in the affairs of his adopted son, Lincoln Richards is playing the paternal role to a tee.

He was apparently upset when Richards bought a car without first consulting him. Richards is clearly grateful for his father's advice and bought his dad an Audi Q7 in 2009. Richards also has his dad to thank for his hulking physique.

City's media officer had trouble preventing Richards sneaking out of the training ground at Carrington when this interview was first arranged but not many people would be able to pin down a player who is built like a middleweight boxer.

"I've always been [built] like this," Richards said. "It must be in the genes as my dad is quite ripped. I don't have to work hard to keep weight off, I'm just naturally trim. I don't eat rubbish, obviously, but I don't really have to watch what I eat or do weights."

His physical well-being and immune system underwent a searching examination in 2009 when he contracted swine flu while on holiday in Cyprus.

"I started feeling really cold and ill, I couldn't eat anything so I knew something was wrong," Richards said. "After three or four days I had to come home. I felt so awful I thought I was dying. A doctor gave me an injection and within a few days I started feeling a bit better."

Leeds United, the 1991/92 English champions, probably feel nauseous at the thought they let Richards slip through their net.

Born in Birmingham, Richards spent his early school years in Chapeltown, an area of Leeds not to far from the club's Elland Road ground.

Aaron Lennon, the Tottenham Hotspur and England winger, also came from the area, as did Jason Robinson, a rugby union World Cup winner.

Richards was on Leeds' books until the age of eight.

"It didn't really bother me getting released from Leeds because I didn't really know what was going on," Richard said.

"My dad just said we are going to Oldham [Athletic] and I didn't realise that I had been released until I was older and knew what it meant."

Richards did not spend very long at Oldham before he started to figure on the radar of City's scouts. By then his transformation from goal poacher to gamekeeper was well underway.

"I used to play as a striker when I was eight or nine and I still like to be thrown up front now," Richards said. "When I was a kid they used to give me the ball and I'd run in behind."

Could Richards have been England's answer to Didier Drogba, the strapping Ivory Coast striker at Chelsea?

"Did you not see my goal against Stoke?" he laughed.

Richards is a popular member of the City squad and is described by a member of the club's administration staff as "a top man".

He spent most of the club's awards night last year sitting alongside Joleon Lescott laughing and joking, yet there is a serious side to Richards, borne out by the suicide of a close childhood friend, Daniel Nelson.

Richards spent hours playing on the tough streets of Chapeltown with Nelson and they both played for Sao Paulo, the renowned local junior team in Yorkshire.

Nelson was found hanging from a ligature made out of bedding forced between the cell door and its frame in Doncaster Prison.

"It was utterly out of character," Richards said. "He had such energy, and he was always so chilled. I still speak to his family once or twice a month when I'm back in Leeds.

"That helps me and of course that helps them a bit. It's not easy but that's life."

In memory of his friend, Richards became an ambassador for If U Care Share, a charity set up by the parents of Daniel O'Hare, another tragic teenage suicide.

Richards has also donated items for auctions for the charity, and wore a green and white If U Care Share wristband during Manchester City and England Under 21 matches last season.

"Micah has been absolutely fantastic," Shirley O'Hare said. "He got involved after my husband sent a message to his website. We are huge football fans, and we saw him talking frankly about his friend on TV. He's been our patron ever since."

Lincoln Richards is also a trustee for the Creative Co-operation charity, which looks to provide equipment and resources for budding footballers in Ethiopia. Micah contributes, deepening the already strong family ties.

He supports his cousin, Jay, who is an up-and-coming musician, and backs the clothing range of his brother, Marlon.

Meanwhile, his sister, Rhonda, helps look after his off-field commitments.

"Family is important to me," Richards said."I've always had a lot of support from them through all the years I've been playing.

"They have always given me confidence and I trust them. They are good people and have always taught me to take it all in my stride."

Richards in full stride, marauding forward from right-back is an imposing sight. It was his athleticism that prompted Stuart Pearce, the then manager, to hand him his City debut at the age of 17.

He has since made more than 120 league appearances for the club and 12 starts for England, the first of which made him the youngest capped defender for his country. It is sometimes easy to forget that Richards is only 22.

"You have to remember that he is only young," Roberto Mancini, the manager, told the Manchester Evening News.

"It is better for him that we work to improve every day, because he has everything he needs to become a strong player.

"He has everything to do his job, but sometimes his concentration lets him down. Sometimes, his body is on the pitch, but his head is not. But I think that if we work on him, he will improve."

Richards would appear the natural successor to Gary Neville, the Manchester United defender, for the England right-back shirt.

His first cap came in 2006 against Holland after Neville pulled out through injury but he has not worn the Three Lions since the defeat to Croatia at Wembley in 2007.

It is therefore no surprise he is playing down his chances of inheriting Neville's position.

"I wouldn't say the shirt is mine," Richards said. "I will be disappointed if I don't get given a chance but it would be a great if I could and if I do get given a chance again I will grab it with both hands."

His attacking instincts make him the epitome of the modern-day full-back but, once he matures, it is easy to see him making the conversion to the heart of the defence.

"I'm a right-back for now but am learning and one day perhaps I'll be a centre-half," Richards said.

"I want to be playing the game when I'm 35 but I am only 22 now and trying to learn as much as I can.

"Things happened very quickly for me and sometimes you have to go back to go forward. I've made some mistakes but I've learnt from them."

 

kaffleck@thenational.ae